It’s okay, I didn’t know there was a Hamlet opera either. It’s by Ambroise Thomas.
The opera Hamlet is very much like the play Hamlet except for the places where it’s not. I guess the original libretto had Hamlet still alive at the end but then the audience was so upset they gathered their pitchforks and torches and were all set to go onstage and kill Hamlet themselves. So they changed it and now everyone ends up dead at the end, all tidy like.
Apropos of nothing, I now have a giant crush on Simon Keenlyside. We will not speak of it again.
So. Claudius marries Gertrude after they knock off King Hamlet. Prince Hamlet is sulky. Ophelia (Marlis Petersen) cheers him up because he loves her and besides, she only arrived from Vienna 3 days before the opera opened and we should all be very, very nice to her. That won’t stop her from killing herself, though.
Ophelia’s brother, Laërte, is leaving for Norway and asks Hamlet to take good care of his sister while he’s gone. Since Hamlet is obviously starting to go a little wobbly in the head, this is like asking a dog to watch your food. It might have been okay except Hamlet’s friends, Scooby and Shaggy, show up and are all “zoikes! a ghost!” and sure enough, King Hamlet’s ghost starts rattling around all creepy-like.
Scooby and Shaggy run off to make themselves a pastrami sandwich in the castle’s kitchen while Dead King Hamlet tells his son that he was poisoned by Claudius who I forgot to mention is his brother. Claudius killed his brother, married his wife, and took his crown. King Hamlet’s soul has been released from hell so he can have a little chat with Hamlet and talk him into killing Claudius. Is it just me, or does it seem like a bad idea to follow instructions from someone/something recently “released from hell?”
Hamlet pretends he’s off his rocker but there was an awful lot of inbreeding back in those days so I’m not totally convinced it was an act. He pulls that old “reenact the crime as a farce” trick and when Claudius blanches, Hamlet jumps up on the banquet table, pours red wine all over himself and suddenly you’re wondering when you started watching Carrie.
Then he’s a jerk to Ophelia. He was already being a jerk but when he found out Ophelia’s father was in on the plot, that really pushes him over the edge. He tells Ophelia to “get thee to a nunnery.”
Note: It was dangerous being a woman in love in those days. When they were betrayed or their betrothed went off their rockers, the women either killed themselves or just up and died. Now we’d let all the air out of Hamlet’s tires and sell his stuff while he was trying to figure out how to get home from work with four flat tires.
I have not actually done that.
There is no place to drown so Ophelia:
- goes crazy
- stabs herself
- cuts both wrists
- sings some more
- lies down in a dead-like manner
- hears choirs of angels
- gets up
- sings some more
- and dies.
For no particular reason, Hamlet shows up at the graveyard as her grave is being dug. Laërte shows up and is all “nice job, jerk.” He challenges Hamlet to a duel and they stab each other. Laërte dies first. The funeral procession files in and suddenly Hamlet realizes the grave is for Ophelia. The Ghost of King Hamlet Past shows up for everyone to see. Claudius says “and I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids” just as Hamlet stabs him. Hamlet dies next to Ophelia. Castle Elsinore may or may not get sold to a developer and turned into a shopping mall now that the ghost has been avenged.